Thursday, January 31, 2013

Over 1,000 massacres in Guatemala

Writing in Plaza Publica today, Quique Godoy said that 40-45% of the Guatemalan population was born after the signing of the 1996 Peace Accords. That percentage goes much, much higher, obviously, if you use a mid-1980s cutoff. Most, but not all, large scale massacres ended by 1984. Given that one-fifth of the population also lives in the capital department, most Guatemalans don't really have a good idea of what is being discussed in Rios Montt's trial.
It's got to be even less in the US. What percentage of the US population knows about early 1980s Guatemala? 5-10%?
However, I wanted to add something to the massacres that isn't as well known. REMHI was published in 1998. It recorded 422 massacres. The Commission for Historical Clarification was published in 1999. It recorded 664 massacres. Even though the CEH recorded over 200 massacres more than REMHI, it didn't include every massacre that was included in the earlier publication.
Gonzalo Sichar Moneno wrote a book that was published in 2000 - Masacres en Guatemala: Los gritos de un pueblo entero. After speaking with victims who had lost relatives in massacres that did not appear in either report, he began to do his own investigating. He compared the massacres that appeared in the REMHI and the CEH reports with others that had been told to him and to those that appeared in books but not in the reports. Here is what he came up with:
As I mentioned the other day, we now know more about the violence that was carried out in Guatemala from the 1960s through the 1990s. I'm more convinced today than ten years ago about many things, including a policy of genocide. Just look at El Quiche.
Of the 1,112 massacres (more than four people but usually much more than four), government forces were responsible for 1,046 (94.06%). Government forces include the army, military commissions, PACs, death squads, and police. Some massacres involved more than one group.

The guerrillas were responsible for 46 (4.14%). By far, the EGP was responsible for the majority of massacres committed by the insurgents with 41. It was the EGP that the military was pursuing when they carried out the massacres for which Rios Montt is being tried.
He also found that 413 massacres were committed by state forces while Rios Montt was president. Another 507 were carried out under Lucas Garcia. Lucas Garcia served nearly four years as president while Rios Montt was only president for seventeen months.

And remember - it's not just the number of massacres. It's the truly horrific acts that were carried out before, during, and after the massacres.

(Sorry for the typos.)

Meet the first head of state to head to trial in the Americas for genocide

I put some thoughts together on Efrain Rios Montt's trial for Al Jazeera in Meet the first head of state to head to trial in the Americas for genocide. In this op-ed, I tackle a bit more of relations between the US and Guatemala during the time in question as well as what the U.S. should do today.
While Guatemalan military and government officials are primarily responsible for the violence perpetrated against its citizens, that should not make Americans feel any better. At a minimum, the US should recognise its complicity in the violence against Mayan civilians in Guatemala especially, but not limited to, the Reagan administration. It should declare its support for the victims of the armed conflict to pursue legal actions against those responsible for gross human rights violations, including genocide and crimes against humanity. It should release all relevant documents that shed light on the terror including those that implicate US citizens. The US should also work with the Guatemalan government and people to implement development projects aimed at assisting those communities who suffered at the hands of state violence during the 1980s and continue to do so today. This is not an exhaustive list, but it is a start.
You can also see my thoughts from Rios Montt goes to trial which I posted here on Tuesday. In that post, I argued that the evidence that legal argument for genocide is greater today than fifteen years ago at the war's conclusion.

WOLA published some thought on the matter yesterday too. I like their suggestion to maintain the military ban on support to the Guatemalan government as well.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Where do all the remittances go?

Prensa Libre has a report on the 10% of Guatemala's GDP that comes from its nationals residing in the United States. Some statistics:
Remittances are the second most important source of income after exports.
Most remittances are spent on housing, medical expenses, and education.
An estimated three million Guatemalans have family members residing in the US.
In 2004, 7,029 Guatemalans were deported from the US. In 2012, deportations surpassed 40k.
Already in 2013, 2,692 Guatemalans have been deported from the US - 601 more than the same period last year.
In 2010, the department of Guatemala received the most remittances. That's not surprising given that the department makes up over 1/5 of the country's population and has two million more people than the second most populous department.

In terms of population Guatemala is followed Huehuetenango, Alta Verapaz, San Marcos, Quiche, and Quetzaltenango. They are the third, sixth, second, thirteenth, and fourth in terms of remittances.

Anybody have explanations for Quiche? It's the fifth most populated department but thirteenth in terms of remittances?

It's also interesting to see how few remittances are sent to the departments surrounding Guatemala. Those departments just are not that heavily populated.

Stay away from El Salvador?

Last week, the U.S. Department of State issued a travel warning for El Salvador. There's really no good explanation for the warning. Perhaps had it not been issued as a warning, just some sort of up date on the conditions in the country, it wouldn't be so controversial. I don't know.

I didn't understand how the U.S. made its decision surrounding the pullout and freezing of the Peace Corps in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador in December 2011 either. Honduras, yes. El Salvador, maybe but not so much. Guatemala? After two years of decreasing murder rates and a rate nearly half of the other two countries - no, I didn't understand that one. To think that Peace Corps managed to operate in Guatemala throughout the country's civil war.

As Tim writes, the warning is nothing new and it contains pretty common sense advice. While it did make the front page of Salvadoran papers, it's not on the front page of the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador's webpage. I guess it can't be that important (which makes it all the more frustrating).

The issuance of a travel warning did get a response from the Salvadoran gangs involved in the truce. Basically, they said that they understand why the U.S. has maintained an arms length from the truce. However, the U.S. should not try to "obstruct" it which they believe that the travel warning does. They are also open to the U.S. becoming inovolved if it so desires. From my perspective, that's not really how the Obama administration works in El Salvador and the region. Right or wrong, it has more often than not let the region sorts its problems out. 

Linda Garrett at the Center for Democracy in the Americas asks why the US is giving the truce the cold shoulder. I asked the same thing on Twitter last week. Isn't it about time the US provides a little more assistance to those trying to make the truce work? Linda questions both the travel warning and the designation of the MS-13 as a transnational criminal organization in October. That seemed to have surprised the Salvadoran government as well. I'm guessing that the U.S. might see its involvement as setting bad precedent, as making things worse, or see previous paragraph (that's not its approach to LA).

[Anybody else find it ironic that the U.S. was blamed for forcing the Salvadoran government to replace FMLN loyalist Manuel Melgar with former general David Munguía Payés. Munguía Payés is then single-handedly responsible (sort of) for coming up with negotiating a gang truce (there's also Mijango and then their decision to involve Colindres). And now the U.S. is being criticized for undermining its man, Munguía Payés, and his main accomplishment. Since the U.S. forced Funes to replace Melgar with Munguía Payés then it stands to reason that the U.S. was behind the truce all along, no?]

There are real concerns that the travel warning will scare tourists and investment away. With two Millennium Challenge Compacts, the Partnership for Growth, and several other smaller programs, the US is investing upwards of $1 billion to help Sanchez Ceren and the FMLN win in 2014 in El Salvador. Scaring away tourists and investors is not something that should be at the top of the U.S.' priority list.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Rios Montt goes to trial

In a remarkable development, former Guatemalan president José Efraín Ríos Montt was ordered to stand trial for genocide and crimes against humanity carried out during his seventeen month dictatorship between 1982 and 1983. Ríos Montt is the first former head of state in the Americas to stand trial for genocide in a national court.

While he has not yet been convicted of anything, Monday’s legal outcome is a victory for his victims, domestic and international human rights organizations, and the Guatemalan people. Many have been working towards this day for over two decades.

Here's what I wrote in July 2011 following the Dos Erres convictions.
I know that it probably sounds like I go back and forth about this, but that's not really the case. I think that all those who committed human rights violations during the war (and the postwar) should be held to account for what they did. However, not everyone is equally responsible and not every [one] should obviously suffer the same punishment. And while it is right that these four men from the Dos Erres massacre have their day in court, I am uncomfortable with the fact that the people who trained, ordered, and rewarded them for their behavior will not. 
Let me just say that I am starting to feel a bit better. I sent off an op-ed to Al Jazeera yesterday on yesterday's decision. Hopefully, it'll be up soon.

See also Geoffrey Ramsey at the Pan-American Post, Elisabeth Malkin at the New York Times with comments from Victoria Sanford and Anita Isaacs, and Boz.

Legally, it's pretty clear that the Guatemalan military carried out a scorched earth campaign between 1981 and 1983 wth the intent to destroy the Ixil population. Men, women, and children were killed, many after having been sexually abused and tortured. There was no effort to distinguish between those that sympathized with the guerrillas and those that did not. All Ixil were thought to be sympathetic to the EGP and therefore were justifiable targerts. If they couldn't catch the guerrillas, they would go after all those that gave them life.
"The guerrilla is the fish. The people are the sea. If you cannot catch the fish, you have to drain the sea" - Efrain Rios Montt (1982)
Survivors fled to the mountains for safety. Military officials then burned down their homes and crops. They searched for and destroyed the corn and belongings that the people had hidden underground. The military pursued the 29,000 displaced as a result of the offensives specified in the most recent trial. They sent patrols out to kill them. They also bombed them from the air. Many of the survivors hid in the mountains in subhuman conditions for years.

The Commission for Historical Clarification found that the Guatemalan state had committed "acts of genocide" It was published in February 1999. We know a lot more about the genocidal campaign in Guatemala today than we did back in the late 1990s - more witness testimony, military documents and plans, declassified US documents, and forensic reports from numerous exhumations of mass graves. There's also video documentation from Pamela Yates' Granito.

That doesn't mean that there are not other complexities to the conflict in Guatemala that obscure a campaign of genocide. However, I think that there's a stronger case today that genocide occurred than I did ten years ago.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Seven Myths of Violence in Guatemala

Carlos Mendoza and Claudia Mendez have a terrific study on the seven myths of violence in Guatemala. It's in Sunday's El Periodico.They should be congratulated for bringing evidence to bear on the state of violence in Guatemala. You need to have a good understanding of the violence in Guatemala in order to figure out the causes so that hopefully you can design solutions to the problems and then tolls to assess whether your proposed solutions are actually working. For the most part, Guatemalans and others involved in studying violence in the country have been shooting in the dark.

I highly encourage you to go over to El Periodico's site and flip through the report. Here is a list of the myths along with comments.

Mito 1: “En este país reina la violencia” - Murder is unequally distributed throughout the country. 79% of all murders occur in 10 departments. Totonicapán, Sololá and Quiché have murder rates that are below the world average of 6.9 per 100k. That's good but it also means that 19 out of the 22 departments have average murder rates that exceed the global average. And stay away from Zone 18 in the capital. It's better than it used to be in terms of murder, but still a place to avoid. From what I hear, if I can believe them, the police still don't go there.

Mito 2: “El narcotráfico es la principal causa de las muertes violentas” - President Perez Molina claims that 40% of the country's murders are related to narcotrafficking. According to the National Civil Police's (PCN) data from the capital, only 1% are narco-related. It is less than 1% nationally. I imagine that the true level is somewhat higher than 1% but perhaps not near 40%. Maybe if you count murders committed while the perpetrator is on drugs? Somewhere around 50% of crimes are motivated by personal reasons. Given that we also hear that victims are often killed by organized crime, I find it interesting that organized crime isn't really a category used by the PNC.

Mito 3: “En algo estaba metido… por eso lo mataron” Age, sex, and geographic area really determine the likelihood of being killed. Men comprise 90% of the victims. 63% of the victims are between 20 and 40. It's a tragedy when any innocent person is killed but there might be too much made when a woman and/or young child is killed. I don't mean it the way that sounds. Women comprise about 11% of all murders. Children 0-12 comprise 3%. Violence against women remains a problem in Guatemala but that violence is not necessarily reflected in how many or what percentage of women are murdered.

Mito 4: “Entre más policías, más seguros estaremos” - As the authors recognize, this one has problems. They compare homicide rates per 100k and police per 100k in each of the country's departments. The departments with the most violence, however, also have the most police. Having police doesn't cause murder, at least I hope not. Police are sent to those departments where there is more violence. I'd like to see this one at the municipal level. Department level comparisons just aren't that good. I'd also like to see some sort of temporal component. Police have been added and repositioned around the country for the last few years. What happened when police were added between 2009 and 2012? Did those municipalities see a decrease in murders? Was there a balloon effect - did surrounding municipalities that did not gain additional police see upticks in murder? I wouldn't have expected a significant change yet anyway. Adding a few thousand rookie cops will take some time to make things better. They need to learn their jobs and the communities need to begin to trust them. They might also need to look at the geographic size of the department compared to the number of police, not just the number of people. What about adding police and military? There are a lot of military patrolling the country. The final challenge is that it might be that there are not enough police anywhere. While there is some variation, perhaps it's all within the not enough category.

Mito 5: “Nuestro problema es la cultura de la violencia” - Well, ladino-heavy departments in the east are much more deadly than heavily indigenous departments in the central area the west. More heavily indigenous departments in the north and east are somewhere in the mid-range. From what I understand, those eastern departments were historically more violent (pre-civil war) and are now the areas where drugs are thought to enter the country. While lynchings often make national and international news, there were only 13 reported successful lynchings in 2012.

Mito 6: “Cada día estamos peor” - National and international news no longer write about Guatemala as a failed state like two-to-three years ago but they somehow keep writing that Guatemala is getting worse day after day. According to homicide data, that's not true. As Carlos and I have repeated for sometime, murders peaked in 2009, decreased the last two years of Alvaro Colom's administration, and then again in 2012 during OPM's first year. In 2012, the murder rate decreased in the capital as well as 15 other departments. The rates decreased approximately 11% for both men and women. 

Mito 7: “Todos corremos el mismo peligro” - Living and/or traveling through certain zones of the capital or departments of the country increase your risk of death. You are more likely to be a victim on Saturday, and Tuesday than the rest of the week. I would sort of disagree with this interpretation as well. What stands out is how evenly spread fatalities are throughout the entire week - from just under 10% Monday and Wednesday to around 17% on Saturday. I think that it's Saturday and Sunday in the states but couldn't really find any solid evidence. People must go home before it turns midnight when they are out on Saturday. The probability for a man to die is 1 in 1,565 while it is 1 in 13,181 for women. Finally, in Guatemala City, 52% of all homicides occur between 8:00 A.M. and 6:00 P.M. Thirty-two percent between 6:00 P.M. and midnight. (The text and graphs are off by 1%). Fewer people are murdered between midnight and 8:00 A.M. because they are not on the street. I'm not sure that it has changed since I was last here, but several taxi drivers I spoke to stopped working at night. Part of the explanation for lower murder rates is because perpetrators and potential victims have altered their behaviors.

Here are some additional thoughts: I wish that they would have made more use of municipal-level data. Carlos has used much of it in his other analyses for CABI. Department-level is a start, but just a start.

A regional comparison would have been useful. While the Northern Triangle is usually lumped together, murder rates in El Salvador and Honduras have been much higher for the last few years.With 2012's murder rates now in the books, Guatemala would drop out of the top 15. In Guatemala, hard as it is to believe, the violence has never really been about its high murder rate. It's high, but in a different quantitative league from its neighbors.

While it can get boring sticking with the same word, Carlos and Claudia are investigating homicides. The paper should have kept to using homicidios rather than violencia. They don't have data on violence.

I wish that myth wasn't in the title. I think that some people are going to read myths, get defensive, and then tune out. It read more accurately when they wrote "describimos siete ideas aceptadas y repetidas que no revelan precisamente la verdad sobre las muertes violentas en Guatemala."

I harped on it last year but Guatemalan and foreign journalists write about 2012's violence as if it were 2009. In fact, they often cited 2009 and 2010 data when describing some violent act that occurred in late 2012. Part of that is because they would cite dated-UN figures and part, well, I imagine that they were either lazy or couldn't believe decreasing murder statistics.

What is the relationship between arrests, successful prosecutions, and subsequent homicide rates? Adding police to an area is just one effort at reducing violence.

Finally, this all assumes the statistics are accurate. It's a big assumption, but there is reason to believe that they are pretty good. Those zones of the capital and the departments in the east and along the frontiers which we believe to be the most violent, show up as the most violent in the analyses. While Carlos and Claudia rely upon PNC data, INACIF's data show a similar decrease though at a higher level for reasons discussed elsewhere. It would be difficult to organize a conspiracy in two different organizations nationwide under two different administrations.

Anyway, great job. I hope that this report leads to the start of some serious discussions about violence in Guatemala that has all too often been missing from rather shallow or misinformed domestic and international reporting.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Future of El Salvador's Gang Truce

I was recently invited to comment on the gang truce between the MS-13 and 18th Street gangs in El Salvador for the Inter-American Dialogue’s daily Latin America Advisor. Here is what a few of us were asked to respond to:
Police registered 2,576 killings in El Salvador in 2012, down from 4,371 the year before, EFE reported. A top police official said the decline was partially due to a truce last March between gangs. What is keeping the truce together? Is it likely to continue holding? Will the decline in killings encourage the governments of other Central American countries to seek similar truces with gangs?
As you can imagine, it was pretty difficult to put a decent answer together in 250 words. I was stuck for some time around 450. Anyway, I said that the truce has, in many ways, held because gang leaders and the Funes administration have wanted it to hold. It sounds a bit like a cop out but here me out.

The government has accepted a situation that leads to fewer murders but a marginal reduction in extortion and other crimes. Gang leaders have received better prison conditions but not a number of reforms that they requested. The gangs and the administration have also managed to keep the truce together while giving the rest of society time to catch up - see the new sanctuary cities. There's been a lot of skepticism to overcome given ten years of gang violence, the secrecy of the truce's negotiations, and the uncovering of mask graves.

Given all the challenges surrounding the integration of thousand of former gang members into society and the likely rejection of the truce by some members, patience and restraint are going to be needed for several years.

Will the truce hold? I'm not sure that anyone knows the answer to this question.There's a good chance that some gang members won't accept the truce and some young Salvadorans decide to create their own gangs. Every country has gangs of some variety. As I sort of mentioned in an Al Jazeera post last year, I would consider the truce a success if there are fewer gang members a year from now, those gangs that do exist are less violent, and the government adopts a more comprehensive approach to at-risk youth. Even if some return to gang life, which I fully expect to happen, I would consider the truce a success if these others conditions were met.

As regards to Honduras and Guatemala, it seems as if the gangs in those countries are of a different beast. Truces wouldn't bring similar benefits. More drug trafficking in Honduras and organized crime in Guatemala perhaps. The gang on gang violence does not seem to comprise the same number of homicides. And, at this time, neither government seems inclined to negotiate with gang leaders. Otto Perez Molina looked liked he might consider speaking with gangs but then said that he was misunderstood. I don't think it would hurt to engage in dialogue but similar truces don't appear to be in the cards.

You can read my complete answer here as well as contributions from a terrific group: El Salvador's Ambassador to the United States Francisco Altschul, the Secretary of Multidimensional Security at the Organization of American States Adam Blackwell, and Executive Director of Homies Unidos and co-chair of the Transnational Advisory Group in Support of the Peace Process in El Salvador (TAGSPPES) Alex Sanchez and his fellow co-chair of TAGSPPES Steve Vigil.

What do you think? Is there anything significant that we missed?

I'd like to thank the people at the Inter-American Dialogue’s daily Latin America Advisor for asking me to contribute and for giving me the permission to reproduce Friday's newsletter.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Remilitarization in Guatemala

There have been many improvements in Guatemala in the last two or three years, including the strengthening of the public prosecutor's office, CICIG, more and better trained police, and lower crimes rates, etc. These changes have helped give Otto Perez Molina strong approval ratings even if some of the reforms have occurred in spite of his intentions. Guatemalans are now more optimistic about the country than they've been in some time.

However, the increased militarization of public institutions, not just those involved in security, is a serious threat to democracy in Guatemala. Kelsey Alford-Jones lays out the concerns behind Otto Perez Molina's militarization of Guatemala in Remilitarization gives rise to new tensions and violence in Guatemala.
Pérez Molina has made no secret of his intention to deploy the armed forces in ever-greater numbers and ever-expanding roles - the military now overwhelmingly dominates citizen security initiatives. Whether walking down Guatemala City’s central avenue, the “Sexta,” or driving on any major highway, Guatemalans are once again likely to encounter soldiers patrolling with semi-automatic rifles or checking papers at military roadblocks.
The government has opened at least five new military bases and outposts since the beginning of 2012, and has sent soldiers to fight drug cartels, to protect historic sites and nature reserves, and to back up the police during evictions and protests. Soldiers have also been deployed en masse to reduce crime in Guatemala City´s poorest neighborhoods.
Seeing soldiers on the streets may not new in Guatemala, but under Pérez Molina, it has become symbolic of his administration’s approach to governance; and for the first time in over 15 years, current and former military personnel permeate the leadership of civilian institutions and dictate the administration’s approach to governance.
This swift remilitarization is deeply controversial, and the reasons behind it are much more complex than first meet the eye.In fact, some argue that the motivation for militarization has little to do with providing security for Guatemalan citizens – instead, it is about protecting the status quo, ensuring impunity for the armed forces and defending multinational economic investments.The US government has been eager to offer support to the Guatemalan military, despite the problematic implications.
It's a good piece and you should read it in its entirety. I'm not sure that the US has been "eager" but that's better than much other critical commentary that would say the US was behind the effort. OPM's reliance on the military is, obviously, because that is who he knows and who he trusts. However, it's also the consequence of the fact that I don't think that he has a lot of elite-level support.

I've argued for increasing the number of police and strengthening public security institutions while at the same time making greater investments in education and health. As the benefits from these investments will take time to come to fruition, I've also been more open to using the military in short-term support roles, primarily along the country's northern and southern borders, than others. But that's not what OPM stands for and not who Guatemalans voted into office in 2011.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Nicaragua's Drug War

David Hutt has an article on Case is snapshot of Nicaragua’s ‘Drug War’ for the Tico Times. His main concern is with the arrest and conviction of eighteen Mexicans posing as employees of Televisa. They were found transporting nearly $10 million dollars into Nicaragua. It is alleged that they were on their way to Costa Rica to buy some drugs and to then return to Mexico.
“Legalization doesn’t make sense,” Ortega said at a recent meeting with other Central American leaders in Guatemala City. “It’s like saying we’re defeated. It would be like legalizing crime.”
Nicaragua does benefit by appearing tough on drug traffickers. In 2007, Ortega called on the U.S. to supply his country with $1 billion in order to combat the flow of illicit drugs. Such a figure was not forthcoming, but the U.S. has invested millions of dollars in Nicaragua’s infrastructure and police force in order to combat the drug trade.
In 2011, foreign aid allowed the country to employ 1,300 new police officers. 
I tend to cringe when I read how US security support makes the Guatemalan, Salvadoran, or Honduran governments do X, Y, and/or Z. Sure, there's some of that. However, I also believe that some people adopt this argument because they want to divert attention away from failures on the part of officials in those three countries or because, well, they're just lazy.

In Hutt's piece, the US has given significant security assistance to Nicaragua but its police and security forces have not carried out the same repressive operations against civilians as has its counterparts in Honduras.

US support can be used for good or for bad but much depends on the government to which we are giving the aid to. The US isn't necessarily giving aid to these governments so that they carry out repressive operations against their own people, sometimes yes, but not as much as is reported. However, the US should be much more careful about providing assistance to police and military that have a history of corruption, extrajudicial executions, and other non-professional extracurricular activities to their resume.

In many ways, it's like the Cold War. The US gave billions of dollars in aid to a number of country's in Central and South America. The US gave lots of money to Venezuela and Costa Rica. Their governments didn't face their internal threats as some others, but their governments were also more responsible in using US assistance.

Guatemala's Genocide Trial

On Monday, we should know whether Efrain Rios Montt will stand trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. There's no doubt that the Guatemalan military carried out a number of massacres during Rios Montt's term in office and that the orders to do so came from the highest offices in the Guatemalan government. His lawyer says that Rios Montt was unaware of what was going on and that it was the regional commanders who were responsible for any crimes carried out against the civilian population.
The former general is known for his scorched earth campaign against people the government claimed were leftist rebels but were often in fact members of indigenous Maya communities who were not involved in the conflict.
Rios Montt, who has been under house arrest for the past year, is accused of orchestrating the massacre of more than 1,750 indigenous Ixil Maya people in Quiche department during his time in power.
His attorney Danilo Rodriguez has said his client is innocent and that the defense team would ask for the case to be dismissed.
Also accused are generals Jose Rodriguez, who appeared this week in a wheelchair, and Hector Lopez, who was absent from the courtroom.
Prosecutors say Rodriguez helped to draw up and carry out the policy that targeted Ixil Maya communities, in which entire villages were burned and their populations massacred.
Danilo Rodriguez who is representing Rios Montt is, strangely enough, a former guerrilla. He says that he wouldn't be representing the former general if he didn't believe that he was innocent of the charges.

There's no doubt that thousands of indigenous Maya were massacred. However, it is more difficult to prove, not impossible, that they were killed because of their identity rather than their alleged support for the guerrillas. Meanwhile, Rios Montt's FRG party is preparing to go out of existence. Well, actually it is becoming the Partido Republicano Institucional (PRI).

In other news out of Canada, Jorge Vinicio Orantes Sosa lost his appeal to have the country's Supreme Court review his extradition to the US. He was extradited to the US last September. Canadian human rights groups are also seeking to have Sosa's Canadian citizenship revoked. He is wanted in Guatemala for his participation in the Dos Erres massacre.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Femicide's Causes

From Anastasia Moloney's Trust Law blog on femicide in Guatemala
Roughly 60 percent of all femicides in Guatemala take place at the hands of former and/or current boyfriends or husbands using firearms.
I don't know if this is true. My impression had been that violence against women, including femicide, in Guatemala was perpetrated by relatives and/or boyfriends. That's how it is in most places of the world, no? However, anytime a woman dies, government spokesmen are quick to blame organized crime. After hearing that argument so many times, I've probably come to believe it myself. Anyway, if femicides are more often than not caused by acquaintances then the solution is much different than if they are caused by organized crime.

The rest is pretty weird. There's been a "dip in the number of femicides" followed by "There is no let up in the cases of killings of women and girls recorded every month." You can't measure the government's success by how many laws that it has passed but instead in how many murders are committed.
“The response of the state has been to create special bodies and teams to address femicides, but that shouldn’t be the benchmark,” says Elgueta. “It doesn’t end with the creation of laws and commissions. The proof of the pudding is the amount of killings that still go on.”
And doesn't that show progress?

Unfortunately, just when the media and other outlets are catching on to falling murder rates in Guatemala, I'm guessing that this is the year that the downward trend stops.

Homicides Decrease in Nicaragua

According to government statistics, Nicaragua recorded 675 violent deaths in 2012, 63 fewer than the 738 suffered in 2011, a 8.5% decrease. National Police Chief Commissioner Francisco Diaz said that the decline occurred in the midst of an overall 9% drop in criminal activity.
There are several explanations for the comparatively low crime rates in Nicaragua including a more professional police and military (largely a legacy of the war), migration patterns (who left, where they went, who came back), political culture probably (remember reading an article about 20 years ago that compared Nicaragua favorably to Costa Rica in this regard), drug routes (absence of people along the Atlantic Coast to a certain extent), etc.
Maybe the lesson can also be that you can have corruption, a weak to non-existent democracy, poverty, gangs, and drug trafficking and still maintain lower murder and overall crime rates. (What do you think Christine?)
I did find the discussion of traffic accidents interesting as well.
Traffic accidents are one of the main pending challenges, due to an increase in 2012 both in quantity and degree of danger, he said.
2012 closed with an increase of 7.1 percent in road accidents and a tally of 679 fatalities, 66 more than in 2011, he said.
According to Garcia, in 99 percent of these cases the state of the roads was not a factor, but human irresponsibility was, especially in regard to drivers speeding, and driving while intoxicated.
The goal of our government is to confront these facts starting in the schools, and in state, religious and family institutions.
I've always told students interested in traveling or studying in Central America, that while crime is high in many countries, the most dangerous aspect to traveling in the region is transportation.

There are no such things as pedestrian rights. Be very careful crossing the street. I've not been able to ascertain any rules to the road. Stop signs are often optional. Speeding and poor maintenance of buses leads to multiple fatalities. Drinking and driving problems. Congestion. High rates of road rage.
I've also been really surprised in the last few weeks at the number of cars that simply disobeyed traffic police.

In El Salvador, we believed that you were more likely to get hurt or die riding in minivans. While you had to pay more, they got you to your destination faster unless you had one of those accidents, of course. Buses, on the other hand, were cheaper and slower. You also had a higher probability of getting robbed. Thieves would simultaneously get on at the front and the back of the bus and clean everybody out. I also had a friend who had a knife stuck in his ribs by a passenger that took the seat next to him. He said that it was his fault because he sat by the window and closed his eyes. On the positive side of things, you were less likely to die or get hurt in accidents while on the larger buses. These observations only pertain to urban buses.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Pre-trial hearing underway while academic offices plundered

It's been a remarkable 24 hours in Guatemala as pre-trial hearing in the Efrain Rios Montt genocide and crimes against humanity trial got underway on Tuesday morning. Rios Montt is accused of having overseen the murder of thousands of Guatemalans while he was de facto president from 1982-1983.
Since his surrender to authorities one year ago, Rios Montt has not taken responsibility for what he ordered in order to "save" the country from the guerrilla threat (i.e., order genocide against the country's indigenous population). I hoped that he would have but that was not the case. I didn't want him to do so because it was a justifiable defense. I just thought that if he believed that is why he and the Guatemalan military acted that way, they should just come out and say so. Instead, his defense (direct and indirect) has been a combination of the army committed no massacres against the civilian population, he wasn't really in control, legal obstacles (amparos), and he can't be tried because of an amnesty.
Well, now we are at the point where the judge has to determine whether there is enough evidence to move forward with trial. (Follow @cascadiasolid for updates)
On Twitter yesterday, Michael Deibert (@michaelcdeibert) and I (@CentAmPolMike) were going over books to reads more about the conflict in Guatemala. No single book is really sufficient and this list isn't exhautive but here are a few:
Silence on the Mountain by Daniel Wilkinson
Last Colonial Massacre by Greg Grandin
Paradise in Ashes by Beatriz Manz
Anything by Ricard Falla including Massacres in the Jungle: Ixcan, Guatemala, 1975-1982
Of Centaurs and Doves and The Battle for Guatemala by Susanne Jonas are also very good.

***Two more from Xilip (@cascadiasolid) - add your suggestions in the comments***

Una guerra sin batallas by Roddy Brett

Popular Injustice by Angelina Godoy
There's been a lot written on the violence in Guatemala during the 1970s and 1980s, much more so than neighboring El Salvador. A lot of anthropologists and sociologists chose Guatemala over El Salvador for a number of reasons, I guess.
These works about state repression in Guatemala, as well as many others, would not have been possible without the support of Asociacion por el Avance de las Ciencias Sociales en Guatemala (AVANCSO). Unfortunately, overnight on the 17th to the 18th of January, AVANCSO's offices were broken into in Guatemala City. Computers and other documents were stolen from their offices which is located in a secure area about two blocks from the presidential palace. And this was not the first time that AVANCSO has been targeted (Siglo XXI). 
Here's the text of a paid ad that was supposed to be in El Periodico on Monday. I assume that it was.
Nosotros, los abajo firmantes, académicos internacionales que trabajamos temas relacionados con Guatemala, condenamos energéticamente el allanamiento de que fuera objeto la sede de la Asociación para el Avance de las Ciencias Sociales en Guatemala (AVANCSO), entre la noche del 17 y la madrugada del 18 de enero.
Por este medio manifestamos nuestro firme apoyo a los colegas de AVANCSO.
La rigurosidad del trabajo de investigación de AVANCSO es conocida y respetada internacionalmente. Así mismo, la vocación de esta institución representa en Guatemala el esfuerzo por conocer y superar la herencia violenta y dolorosa del pasado reciente del país, mediante procesos sistemáticos de generación de conocimientos.
El Gobierno de Guatemala tiene la obligación de proteger la libertad académica e investigativa. En tal sentido demandamos que sea llevada a cabo una investigación inmediata y efectiva de los hechos recientemente sucedidos, a modo que se pueda identificar y procesar penalmente de los responsables directos e intelectuales.
Esta es la única manera de asegurar que los atropellos del pasado en contra de la vida científica e intelectual en Guatemala no vuelvan a producirse.
I wholeheartedly endorse my colleagues' call for Guatemalan authorities to protect academic freedom and investigation - on any and all issues.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

9 police investigators arrested in Guatemala

Nine police investigators were arrested in Guatemala for a variety of crimes including kidnapping or abduction, abuse of authority, aggravated robbery, and illicit association. Here are some of last year's PNC major arrests.

28/09/2012 - Caso Gasofa
Cuatro comisarios, tres oficiales, un inspector, un agente,y un exagente fueron capturados por contrabando de combustible.

19/09/2012 - Detienen a 19

Agentes de la Policía Nacional Civil fueron aprehendidos, sindicados de haber asaltado a personas que cambiaban moneda.

09/06/2012 - Robafurgones

Tres agentes fueron apresados por el robo de un furgón que transportaba mercadería, en Puerto San José, Escuintla.

06/06/2012 - Por secuestro
Once agentes asignados a la Comisaría 13 fueron detenidos por plagio y asociación ilícita. Operaban en la zona 10 capitalina.

Evidence of the corruption within the PNC but also good to see continued investigations and arrests.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Guatemala: Struggling for justice

Al Jazeera's Kimberly Halkett talks human rights in Guatemala with former vice president Rafael Espada, co-director of Rights Action Annie Bird, and senior analyst of US policy in Latin America for the National Security ArchiveKate Doyle.

And Rios Montt loses another legal battle as judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez of the Tribunal Primero B de Mayor Riesgo is declared competent.

CNN on murder of Guatemalan women

I really want to support you Mutual Support Group but then I read something like this on CNN.
Some 707 women were killed in Guatemala in 2012, a significant increase from 431 in 2011, according to the human rights group Mutual Support, which tracks violence in that nation.
Already this year, 32 murders of women have been reported in just 15 days, while 216 men have been killed in the same period, the human rights group said.
Officials promised that investigators are doing everything they can to identify and catch the perpetrators, but Guatemala's record in pursuing justice is considered pitiful by human rights organizations.
"When it comes to crimes against women and boys and girls, the level of impunity can be as high as 100%," said Mario Polanco, director of Mutual Support.
According to him, in 2012 only 1% percent of women's killings were investigated, and there were zero convictions.
Maybe something was lost in the translation. Unless GAM has changed, they get their statistics from reading the paper. I haven't seen anyone else measure an increase in deaths of women from 431 in 2011 to 707 in 2012. Both INACIF and the PNC show a decline. See here.

I have no idea what he means by "the level of impunity can be as high as 100%".

Amnesty International issued a new press release that, like last week's, continued to highlight the 560 murders of women in 2012 as worse than the 630 in 2011 and 695 in 2010. I guess that I would have to see more evidence that 70 fewer deaths in 2012 is worse than the deaths from 2011.

Counting homicides and comparing homicide rates are not the only way to measure violence. They might not even be the best way. But if you are going to show decreases in murders as a sign of a worsening situation, that just loses credibility in my book.

GAM, Amnesty International, and other domestic and international human rights organizations are critical to maintaining the pressure on the Guatemalan government so that it acts to continue to decrease rates of violence and to increase the rates of prosecution. I understand that they sometimes need to over do it in the PR department, but I'm not sure that making such extreme statements helps.

I also don't want to speculate but the deaths of two young girls in their PJs and their cousin and mom found a few blocks away doesn't shout organized crime. I hope that this is one of the few cases that the authorities do solve.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

OPM puts drug decriminalization back on the table

John Mulholland from The Observer recently interviewed Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina as he travels to Davos, Switzerland to resurrect his drug decriminalization initiative (Guatemala's president: 'My country bears the scars from the war on drugs').
When Pérez Molina first announced his preference for a regulated drug market, the response was swift. "Within 24 hours, the [US] embassy here in Guatemala made a statement that they had rejected this position. However, some months later we saw at the Summit of the Americas that President Barack Obama said the US was willing to enter into a dialogue, even though they maintained their position of the rejection of regulation or decriminalisation.
"I believe that as he is entering his second term, [Obama] is going to be more open to this debate. In the end, this is the direction we all have to move in. There is going to be a change away from the paradigm of prohibitionism and the war against drugs, to a process that will take us towards regulation. I would expect a more flexible and open position from President Obama in his second term."
Pérez Molina's decision to take the debate to Davos signals a new front is opening up in the debate – namely to engage leaders of the business community. Many already are engaged. The Economist magazine has argued for the legalisation of drugs for more than 20 years. And there is a growing business lobby in the US that wants to shift the drugs market – and profits – from cartels to capitalists. Seven years ago Forbes, America's business bible – listed 500 members of the business community who favoured a regulated drugs market.
I was, and remain, sympathetic to OPM's call for decriminalization of marijuana (less so, other drugs). I criticized how he went about starting a discussion in an Al Jazeera piece last year. Going to Davos at the beginning of Obama's second term, rather than in the midst of a US presidential campaign, seems a smarter way of going about attaining his goal.

I do wonder, though, whether instead of playing the innocent victim card, he would be better served by arguing that Guatemala is doing its best under the circumstances. He and his administration, as well as that of his predecessor, have added police, redeployed military units, worked with various regional and US anti-drug organizations, cooperated with CICIG, extradited drug suspects, supported a fearless Attorney General, tackled corruption and increased tax revenue. (I know, the Guatemalan government and organized groups' support for some of these measures have been lukewarm at best.)

While that has helped Guatemala reduce its murder rate from 46 to 34 per 100,000 in just three years, it is going to be much more difficult, if not impossible, to build upon these successes without serious changes to international and domestic drug policies.

(Any one else find it interesting that the successful Colombia had a murder rate of 31 per 100,000 in 2012 while the failing Guatemala checked in with 34 per 100,000?)

Six women slain in Guatemala

Six women were killed on a deadly day last Wednesday in Guatemala. Two young girls, ages 6 and 12 were found in their pajamas on a Guatemala City street. They had been strangled. Two other women were found killed not too far away. It turns out that these women were two sisters, their mother, and their cousin. The bodies of two other women, a mother and her sixteen-year old daughter, were found shot to death in Zacapa.

Guatemalans were outraged at the latest violence against women here. It's tragic that so many Guatemalans, especially females, live and die amidst such violence.

However difficult it is to believe, though, Wednesday's murders took place within an improving security climate for Guatemalans and women. As I mentioned two weeks ago, homicide rates decreased for the third year in a row in 2012. Homicides against women decreased as well.

After peaking in a very violent 2009 with nearly 6,500 murders, Guatemala recorded fewer than 5,200 were killed in 2012. That's 1,300 fewer overall homicides reported. In terms of female victims, 720 women were murdered in 2009 and fewer than 600 were killed in 2012 - about a 20% decrease. These statistics come from the PNC.

If you use INACIF's statistics, the numbers of violent deaths (homicides plus other deaths), the overall numbers are higher but the downward trend remains the same - 834 to 700.

While it's no consolation to the families and friends who lost their loved ones last Wednesday, their deaths occurred in the midst of a significant reduction in femicide.

I'm glad to see Amnesty International issue a call for the Guatemalan government to do more to protect women in Guatemala but not with issuing press released entitled Time to end the inaction over killings of women in Guatemala.
Around 560 women were murdered in Guatemala in 2012, 631 in 2011 and 695 in 2010, according to official figures.
Less than 4 per cent of all homicide cases result in perpetrators being convicted. Guatemala’s congress passed a law in 2008 that typified various crimes of violence against women and established special tribunals and sentencing guidelines, but this has not stemmed the violence.
“There is no let-up in the cases of killings of women and girls recorded every month, despite the national scandal this has become for Guatemala,” said Sebastian Elgueta, Guatemala researcher at Amnesty International.
Inaction? AI mentions the 2008 Law Against Femicide and Other Forms of Violence Against Women which has been passed but weakly enforced. In one of his first acts as president, Otto Perez led a protest march up a volcano. He established a task force to tackle femicide. There have been special offices established to prosecute femicide in Alta Verapaz, Huehuetenango, and Escuintla. CICIG and Paz y Paz have also made inroads. None of these scream inaction.

Needs to do more. I agree. Needs to prioritize violence against women. I'm with you. Inaction? Good headline but it doesn't reflect reality.

The homicide data that is presented in the AI press release also show a decrease from 2010 to 2011 to 2012. They also report 4% of all homicide cases result in convictions. That is terribly low but better than the 1-2% reported not too long ago. Sebastian Elgueta's quote about "no let-up in the cases of killings of women and girls recorded every month" is not consistent with what comes before the quote. Still too high? I'm with you.

Female victims comprise about 11% of all homicide victims. That's not good but it's also below the 18% that was the global average not too long ago.

The press seems to be jumping on the story as an example of increasing violence, particularly murder, against women in Guatemala. Statistics say that's not the case. It's dangerous for women in Guatemala but less so than it was in the not so distant past. In many ways, the coverage is similar to the May 2011 Peten massacre. The horrific crime occurred even though murders decreased that year, something the was missed in the coverage.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims' families and friends even though I have problems with the coverage of their deaths.

Friday, January 18, 2013

CICIG to end in 2015

On Friday, the UN notified the Guatemalan Government that the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) will continue through 2015. President Otto Perez said that he was pleased with CICIG's work. He also emphasized Vice President Roxana Baldetti's efforts in getting CICIG extended.

Should we start talking about the 2015 presidential race involving Baldetti, Sandra Torres, and Baldizon? Not yet.

However, what surprised me was Perez Molina's statement that these two years will be the last for CICIG.
"Es un buen resultado que se haya aprobado por dos años más, éstos serían los últimos de CICIG y servirán para hacer la transferencia de capacidades hacia las instituciones de seguridad nacional", afirmó.
I don't know. CICIG has done some really important work these last few years and Guatemala's institutions are much better as a result. However, I'm not sure that 2 1/2 years is enough time to continue to strengthen Guatemala's public institutions and to execute a plan to transfer all responsibilities to Guatemalan entities.

Maybe this will be another decision on which Perez Molina is forced to backtrack.

Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina's first year in office

My post on Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina's first year in office is up at Al Jazeera. I submitted it over a week ago so it feels a bit dated already. Here's how it ends.
For the last few weeks, all the Guatemalan newspapers have been running stories about social unrest throughout the country over land conflict, mining, and indigenous rights.
The massacre in Totonicapan, the earthquake and devastation in San Marcos, repression against civil society, tensions surrounding the poorly conceptualised, planned and executed end of the world celebrations, and Otto Perez Molina's military history make for poor relations between a large number of Guatemalans and the government.
These are real concerns about the situation here as Guatemalans head into 2013 and the second year of this administration. I'm afraid that adverse decisions with regards to the prosecution of human rights violators and the increased reliance on the military to resolve problems that do not have military solutions will only stoke the flames of discontent which is unfortunate and dangerous for the people of this beautiful country.
Fortunately, the President agreed not to push a law that would have limited the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights' jurisdiction on alleged crimes committed prior to 1987.  

See Seventy percent approval for Guatemalan President and What we feared in Guatemala? as well.

A mixed picture, at best, for 2012 and worrisome signs for 2013.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

21st Anniversary of Peace Accords

Today is the 21st anniversary of the peace accords that ended the civil war in El Salvador. I am out in Panajachel today and don't have much internet time. Instead, I am going to link to two articles that addressed the peace accords on their 20th anniversary and that I posted here last year.

The first is by Christine Wade of Washington College. The title of her commentary was El Salvador: Not what it was, but not what it might have been.

The second is by Alberto Martin Alvarez from the Instituto Mora in Mexico City. He wrote about civil society and the peace accords in Cambio político y sociedad civil.


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Mining, human rights and Cerro Blanco

Two new reports on mining, human rights and the Cerro Blanco project have recently been released in ES.
"Informe Especial sobre el Proyecto Minero “Cerro Blanco” y las Potenciales Vulneraciones a Derechos Humanos en la población salvadoreña", presentado por el licenciado Oscar Humberto Luna, el día 10 de enero de 2013
El Procurador para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos, en el marco de la audiencia de carácter general, celebrada en el 146º Período de Sesiones de la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, presentó el “Informe sobre la Minería Metálica y los Derechos Humanos en la República de El Salvador”
You can find them here.

(via an anonymous reader)

Seventy percent approval for Guatemalan President

From the Tico Times
President Otto Pérez Molina’s administration, which marks one year on Monday, has 70 percent approval from the public according to a survey by the daily La Prensa Libre.
The poll, conducted ​​from Jan. 3-8 by local firm Prodatos, found that 70 percent of citizens support the work of Pérez Molina, while 30 percent disapprove. The percentage of support remained almost unchanged in the last six months. In July, the president had a 69 percent approval rating.
The newspaper noted that Pérez Molina’s approval rating is the highest ever achieved in the last four governments in Guatemala.
Pérez Molina took office on Jan. 14, 2012, and on Sunday, he celebrated his first year with a mass gathering in a popular area in the north of the capital, occupied for three months by the military and police to counter violence.
The president did not attend Congress Monday to present his annual report on his administration’s accomplishments, opting instead to send the document, which is permitted by law.
Even with positive figures, 59 percent of those polled considered public insecurity as the main problem in the country. Violence causes an average of 16 deaths per day in Guatemala, one of the highest rates in Latin America.
Regarding the Guatemalan economy, 24 percent said that it is worse than a year ago, mostly due to the high cost of basic goods and unemployment.
Violence is the main problem but homicides were cut by approximately 10% in the last year and it was the third consecutive year that the homicide rate increased. The public recognizes a bit of an improvement but probably not as much as the numbers indicate they should. Nearly 6,500 people were murdered in 2009 and fewer than 5,200 in 2012. That's a pretty significant drop.

The economy comes in as the second most pressing problem. It grew about 3.5% last year. However, OPM doesn't get as good a report from the citizens on the economic situation as he does on the security situation. The rural development law failed but he was able to pass some tax reform earlier in the year including an increase on mining royalties.

Impunity is down. Police are better trained. The courts and prosecutors are better. CICIG and Paz y Paz have done terrific work. Corruption has improved according to Transparency International. Several successful prosecutions for Cold War crimes.

It's hard not to get frustrated / outraged at many ongoing issues in Guatemala if you focus solely on examples of injustice. There are too many to count. However, from my vantage point, there have also been significant improvements since 2009 when homicides reached their peak and the country was on the verge of a coup with demonstrators in the streets demanding the removal of the president for Rosenberg's murder.

Given the approval ratings for Perez in 2012 and 2013, Guatemalans are more focused on the positive returns from his administration. However, those politically engaged don't really seem to see things the same way as the rest of the country.

Here was a quick summary I made near the end of Colom's term when he left office with an approval rating of ~17%. I thought that his approval ratings were lower than they should have been just like I would say that 70% is too high for Perez Molina.

See also Siglo XXI and Prensa Libre.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Revolucionarios en Tiempos de Paz

I just finished reading Ricardo Saenz de Tejada's Revolucionarios en Tiempos de Paz: Rompimientos y recomposicion en las izquierdas de Guatemala y El Salvador. I purchased the book a few years ago but never made my way entirely through it. I don't have the patience to read 250 pages of Spanish when I am in the states.

Anyway, it's a book that I would highly recommend for those interested in learning more about the FMLN in El Salvador and the URNG in Guatemala. While Saenz de Tejada does discuss the wars, the peace processes, and postwar developments in each country, the emphasis is always on the FMLN and URNG organizations. That emphasis really sets it apart from most of the other works that have been done on the Salvadoran and Guatemalan conflicts.

The book was published in February 2007 which means that it does not cover the FMLN's rebound from its 2006 defeat in presidential elections to its victory in 2009. Less interesting, perhaps, it does not address the URNG's weak electoral performance in elections of late 2007.

There's a lot more to each group's history but this is as good a start (really more than a start) as any.

Criminals build private city to escape Guatemala

There's been a story going around the last few days on a project in Guatemala City to build an all-inclusive city. The "city" includes just about everything that you'd need in a city except probably jobs.
Guatemalan developers are building a nearly independent city for the wealthy on the outskirts of a capital marred by crime and snarled by traffic. At its heart is the 34-acre Paseo Cayala, with apartments, parks, high-end boutiques, church, nightclubs, and restaurants, all within a ring of white stucco walls.
The builders of Paseo Cayala say it is a livable, walkable development that offers housing for Guatemalans of a variety of incomes, though so far the cheapest apartments cost about 70 times the average Guatemalan's yearly wage. It's bordered by even costlier subdivisions begun earlier. Eventually, the Cayala Management Group hopes to expand the project into "Cayala City," spreading across 870 acres (352 hectares), an area a little larger than New York's Central Park.
Cayala's backers promote it as a safe haven in a troubled country, one with an unusual degree of autonomy from the chaotic capital. It also embraces a philosophy that advocates a return to a traditional concept of a city, with compact, agreeable spaces where homes and shops are intermixed.
Detractors, however, say it is a blow to hopes of saving the real traditional heart of Guatemala City by drawing the well-off back into the urban center to participate in the economic and social life of a city struggling with poverty and high levels of crime and violence.
The story's actual title was "Guatemala builds private city to escape crime." Maybe the people built the new city to escape crime. Obviously, crime is a problem here. However, I changed the title to "Criminals built private city to escape Guatemala." I know - not every one who chooses to live in Cayala is a criminal. Some want to escape crime and others want to bring a little of New York and Paris to Guatemala.

However, for many Guatemalans, the people who can afford to live in Cayala are the same people, or families, that are engaged in organized crime, drug trafficking, human smuggling, etc. They have stolen land from their original owners. They plunder the land for its natural resources. They export what they grown to serve the needs of American and Europeans consumers rather than to feed the staring here..

Perhaps, they are criminals because they exploit their employees. They pay them a non-livable wage. They sexually harass female employees. Maybe they fire or kill those who try to organize unions. They don't pay taxes. For many of the people in this country, they probably see those who live in Cayala as the criminals who want to to escape from Guatemala, not Guatemalans who want to escape from crime.

Another reasons why some people want to live in Cayala boils down to the fact that many of the wealthy are simply racist. They don't do not like their fellow citizens. In fact, they don't even think of them as citizens. Granted not all elites and not all those who are living in or will live in Cayala are racist. However, many of the attitudes that led to the civil war and that were documented in the various human rights reports remain pressing concerns today. Racism lies behind much of what the people and the government do or do not do.

We have the same problem in the United States where elites would rather isolate themselves from society around them. It's just a lot worse when it happens in a country amidst such poverty, inequality, and violence.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Guatemala Homicides by Department

I pieced together a chart that shows homicides by department in Guatemala. The 2010 murder rates use population figures from here. I then estimated 2.5% population growth for the 2011 data. FOR 2012, I just used the homicide rates from Carlos Mendoza at CABI. He also has 2011 murder rates.

The department of Guatemala has really experienced significant improvement in the last few years. That's driving down overall homicide rates for the entire country. As you can see here, the rate has dropped from 78 per 100,000 in 2010 to 54 in 2012. That still makes it one of the more violent departments.

The Peten, Alta Verapaz, and Baja Verapaz have also seen big drops since 2010 though Peten was flat from 2011 to 2012 (maybe up 1).

Like every country, there is a great deal of variation from department to department. We'd also see similar variation within departments and cities.

Here's the data another way.
While Guatemalans tend not to perceive an improved security situation in the country, changes in the homicide rates tell a different story. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

NISGUA's Year in Review

You should check out two NISGUA year in reviews for Guatemala. In The Search for Justice and Against Impunity, the give updates on the Efrain Rios Montt genocide trial and the Plan de Sanchez, Dos Erres, and Rio Negro trials. While I am worried about what the future might bring, 2012 was another good year for bringing human rights perpetrators to justice.

President Otto Perez Molina recently tried to limit the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights' jurisidiction in the country arguing that the government would not abide by any rulings on alleged crimes committeed prior to 1987. However, pressure from civil society forced Perez to rethink the government's position.

And in the second review, they present the Defense of Territory and Natural Resources. This one covers many of the land and natural resource conflicts ongoing in the country including the Marlin mine, San Jose del Golfo, San Rafael Las Flores, Santa Cruz de Barrillas. Last year was bad and everyone is really concerned that the violence surrounding land rights might explode in 2012. There have been several shootings these last few days.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Latin America's Cold War

I just finished Hal Brands' Latin America's Cold War. Hal is Assistant Professor of Public Policy and History at the Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University. You may remember him from his post on The Peten Massacre in Context that he wrote in May 2011.
For Latin America, the Cold War was anything but cold. Nor was it the so-called “long peace” afforded the world’s superpowers by their nuclear standoff. In this book, the first to take an international perspective on the postwar decades in the region, Hal Brands sets out to explain what exactly happened in Latin America during the Cold War, and why it was so traumatic.
Tracing the tumultuous course of regional affairs from the late 1940s through the early 1990s, Latin America’s Cold War delves into the myriad crises and turning points of the period—the Cuban revolution and its aftermath; the recurring cycles of insurgency and counter-insurgency; the emergence of currents like the National Security Doctrine, liberation theology, and dependency theory; the rise and demise of a hemispheric diplomatic challenge to U.S. hegemony in the 1970s; the conflagration that engulfed Central America from the Nicaraguan revolution onward; and the democratic and economic reforms of the 1980s.
Most important, the book chronicles these events in a way that is both multinational and multilayered, weaving the experiences of a diverse cast of characters into an understanding of how global, regional, and local influences interacted to shape Cold War crises in Latin America. Ultimately, Brands exposes Latin America’s Cold War as not a single conflict, but rather a series of overlapping political, social, geostrategic, and ideological struggles whose repercussions can be felt to this day.
As the book's description explains, one of the central contributions of the text is its multinational and multilayered approach to understanding the Cold War in Latin America. It's a tremendously ambitious book which is both its strength and weakness. I highly recommend it probably because it reflects in many ways how I view the Cold War in Latin America.  
Hal carried out archival work in the United States, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Germany, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela. He also carried out a number of interviews throughout the region. Hal addresses the motivations behind and the consequences of US, Cuban, and Soviet intervention in the region's affairs.

He paints a much more complicated picture of US policy in the region where he argues that explanations for US involvement in the region's affairs cannot be reduced simply to anti-communist support for repressive regimes. What the US did or did not do, or accomplish, was affected by relations between the president and congress, the receptivity to US "assistance" by elites (both in and outside government) and the military in Latin America, what the Soviets, Cubans, and Nicaraguans were doing, and global events.

I'd say some of the weaknesses of the book are the limited attention to pre-Cold War relations between the US and Latin America which would help the reader understand the continuity/discontinuity of the period. Brands also doesn't put much value in economic motivations for explaining US policy. I view US action more as a response to Cold War concerns as well but I thought that economic interests could have been addresses a bit more.

There's also the difficulty of evaluating how important US/Cuban/Soviet/Nicaraguan actions were to explaining the occurrence or non-occurrence of important events. Would Allende have fallen in Chile without US support? The US might not have been that important to explaining the September 11, 1973 coup - the military, elites, and many ordinary Chileans wanted him out - but it's hard to minimize ten years of political and economic efforts to undermine Allende as candidate and president. The same goes for the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Allende and the Sandinistas made numerous mistakes that alienated them from Chileans and Nicaraguans, but how many of those mistakes were the results of responding to US actions? For example, conscripting Nicaraguans to fight against the contras was highly unpopular. However, the Nicaraguan government would not have done that had the US not been supporting the contras.

I also have a hard time characterizing US support in El Salvador. The US supported Napoleon Duarte and the Christian Democratic Party, land reforms, and some nationalizations. This support widened the divide between the US government and the country's economic elites who believed that the US alliance with the PDC was dangerous to their economic and political interests. As a result, they escalated death squad activities and sabotaged reform efforts and created their own political party to prevent the US and PDC from implementing a number of reforms.

Some US officials believed that, after the FMLN, ARENA and the country's economic elites were the biggest threats to democracy in the country. They criticized Roberto D'Aubuisson. At the same time, it appears that a number of US officials maintained close contacts with him. The US trained Salvadoran military personnel in tactics that violated the law. However, they also criticized the Salvadoran military for repeating stupid mistakes time and time again (think atrocities from hammer and anvil operations from Mark Danner's The Massacre at El Mozote). Should the US get any credit for preventing the Salvadoran military from carrying out another matanza like 1932? And it wasn't just US and the Salvadoran governments that contained the FMLN, it was their political project that didn't convince a majority of Salvadorans to back them. Remember, they only received 25% of the vote in 1994. Even if that was probably below their true level of support, it was still minority support.

There's a lot of good stuff in the book particularly as it deals with Soviet, Cuban and Nicaraguan intervention in the region like in El Salvador. Would the FMLN have been victorious had it not been for the economic and military intervention of the US? Perhaps, but it's not that simple. The  FMLN would surely have been defeated without support for Nicaragua, Cuba and the Soviet Union as well as other assistance that it received from Vietnam, China, Mexico, France, Costa Rica, and some in the US.

Still, I strongly recommend the book and am toying with assigning it for my spring US-Latin American relations class next year.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Tourism increases by 7% in Guatemala

From Infosurhoy
Guatemala welcomed about 1.95 million tourists in 2012, an increase of 7% over the previous year, driven by the arrival of cruise ships and celebrations for the end of the era in the Mayan calendar, officials said on Jan. 9.
“The recovery of the cruise season [which began in September and ends in May] and the end of the [Mayan cycle] are the two main elements that generated the increase,” Pedro Duchez of the Guatemalan Tourism Institute (Inguat) said.
Inguat said more than half of the visitors came from Central and Southern Mexico, followed by the United States and Europe.
Duchez, who had forecasted a growth of about 8% in 2012, said 200,000 tourists visited the Central American nation in December – 10% more than in the same month in 2011 – as Dec. 21 marked the end of the Mayan calendar. 
I've only been here two weeks but the restaurant workers in Antigua with whom I've spoken characterize last year as pretty bad. It's possible that the increase in tourism was felt more along the Atlantic Coast and in the Peten, not in Antigua.

A seven percent increase, year over year, is pretty good. However, it has got to be viewed as a failure on the part of the Perez administration. His administration was banking on the end of the world celebrations to really put a charge into the economy and put Guatemala on the map. It was all downhill I guess once Bono wasn't available.

Some of the failure was the result of November's strong earthquake as the government had to divert resources to tend to the needs of the people of San Marcos and elsewhere. However, I also heard that preparations for the end of the year celebrations were not going so well and the government used the excuse of the earthquake to dial back plans for December.

It's unfortunate that the government exploited the people of Mayan descent, damaged the country's historical sites, and excluded many indigenous from their own celebrations even if the government had brought in a huge influx of tourists and money. Now that the financial return doesn't look like what they had hoped it would be, the decision to exploit the Mayan calendar looks that much worse.

ProPublica update on Dos Erres

Sebastian Rotella has an update for ProPublica on Retired Guatemala Colonel César Adán Rosales Batres, a perpetrator of the massacre at Dos Erres, and Oscar Ramírez Castañeda, a survivor of the massacre.
Rosales lived for a time in the military-dominated neighborhood of Colonia Lourdes [6], according to records of a driver's license he renewed on Aug. 11, 2008. The leader of the unit, former Col. Roberto Aníbal Rivera Martínez, also lived in Colonia Lourdes. Investigators who tried to arrest Rivera last year discovered that his house was equipped with an escape tunnel.
ProPublica has learned that in recent years, Rosales lived in another house in a nearby upscale neighborhood, Colonia Hacienda Real. The presence of military families in Colonia Hacienda Real is considerably smaller than in Colonia Lourdes, investigators say.
Despite the fact that massacre charges against him had been public for years, Rosales did not keep a low profile, investigators say. In fact, he served as president of a neighborhood association, according to Guatemalan prosecutor Sarah Romero.
After dropping out of sight in 2011, Rosales was spotted about three months ago driving around his old neighborhood.
Ramirez was granted political asylum in the US which has allowed him to apply for a driver's license, open a bank account, and live more in the open. He still works two full-time jobs but is looking for work that will pay a bit more and give him more time to spend at home with his family.
I'm not exactly sure how it will play out, but there's a lot riding on the Constittutional Court's decision concerning the 1996 amnesty and Efrain Rios Montt.